The Ethnographic State: France and the Invention of Moroccan Islam

Publication Year



Edmund Burke, III, Ph.D. 1970.

Alone among Muslim countries, Morocco is known for its own national form of Islam, “Moroccan Islam.” However, this pathbreaking study reveals that Moroccan Islam was actually invented in the early twentieth century by French ethnographers and colonial officers who were influenced by British colonial practices in India. Between 1900 and 1920, these researchers compiled a social inventory of Morocco that in turn led to the emergence of a new object of study, Moroccan Islam, and a new field, Moroccan studies. In the process, they resurrected the monarchy and reinvented Morocco as a modern polity.

This is an important contribution for scholars and readers interested in questions of orientalism and empire, colonialism and modernity, and the invention of traditions.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Inventing Moroccan Islam

1 France and the Sociology of Islam, 1798–1890
2 The Algerian Origins of Moroccan Studies, 1890–1903
3 The Political Origins of the Moroccan Colonial Archive
4 When Paradigms Shift: Political and Discursive Contexts of the Moroccan Question
5 Tensions of Empire, 1900–1912

6 Social Research in the Technocolony, 1912–1925
7 Berber Policy: Tribe and State
8 Urban Policy: Fez and the Muslim City

9 The Invention of Moroccan Islam
10 From the Ethnographic State to Moroccan Islam

A Note on Sources

Reviews and Endorsements

"4/5 . . . Highly engaging."—Kevin Winter San Francisco Book Review

"La composition brillamment dégagée par l’auteur." ("Brilliantly clear composition by the author.")—Mehdi Sakatni lectures

"The Ethnographic State is a significant contribution to Moroccan studies and to the history of imperialism in North Africa. . . . For students of Morocco, Burke’s work is critical."—American Historical Review

"Written with verve and wit, Edmund Burke’s The Ethnographic State displays the deep erudition that has marked the author’s career. Clearly in tune with the murmuring currents of change in Morocco today, Burke closes the book with the tantalizing line, 'The invention of Moroccan Islam and its successive transformations led to the forging of a powerful political discourse that still has currency. But for how much longer?'"—H-France

"The Ethnographic State provides an insightful overview of the creation and institutionalization of a national practice of Islam within a colonial context. Burke’s detailed research on the formation of Moroccan Islam and the role of French scholarship on colonial policies will impact scholarship on Islam, colonialism, and state formation."—History of Religions

"A welcome addition to the growing literature on French colonial knowledge... a tour de force in terms of its breadth and depth, its synthesis of anglophone and francophone scholarship, and, last but not least, its splendid erudition lightly worn."—Journal of Modern History

"In this long-awaited study, Edmund Burke argues that the Mission scientifique du Maroc and the sociology of Islam it engendered was a complexly colonial project--shaped as much by Algeria as by British India and blind to indigenous sentiment. Never has the genealogy of imperial ethnography been so carefully excavated, nor have the limits of colonial social science been so painstakingly exposed. If the invention of 'Moroccan Islam' was a pathway to the modern state, it is also extraordinary evidence of the impact of Western ethnography on the business of colonial hegemony."
—Antoinette Burton, author of Empire in Question: Reading, Writing and Teaching British Imperialism

"Edmund Burke's much-anticipated study of the politics of knowledge production offers a wide-ranging history of the French colonial scholarship that, in imagining into being a 'Morocco that never was,' set in train powerful ways not only of representing but also of legislating and enacting social life, religious practice, and political authority that continue to have their effects in the present. Accessibly written and grounded in a lifetime's detailed research, this is a major contribution from one of the most respected scholars of North African and world history."
—James McDougall, Trinity College, University of Oxford

"Edmund Burke's lucid, critical writing and his interests in world history and modern North Africa come together in this important book. It should be compulsory reading for everyone interested in colonial history and the complexity of the relation of 'scientific ethnography' to the practices of imperial powers. It speaks to contemporary issues."
—Michael Gilsenan, professor of anthropology and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University and author of Recognizing Islam and Lords of the Lebanese Marches

“Burke’s magisterial study of how the notion of Moroccan Islam came to be challenges current theories of empire by offering a counter-model with wide applicability. By reinterpreting the colonial imaginary and its archive across multiple scales, ranging from the individual to the global, Ethnographic State not only unmasks ‘scientific imperialism,’ revealing its detours, incoherence, and failures but also explains how these were recast as a seamless, untroubled colonial (and post-colonial) narrative of something that never was.”
—Julia Clancy-Smith, Department of History, University of Arizona

University of California Press
Cloth: 9780520273818; ebook: 9780520957992